The engineers from the University of Illinois at Chicago had invented the first artificial leaf that uses carbon dioxide to create energy.
The device is a solar cell that converts the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into fuel. The creators promise the artificial leaf will also be cost-effective.
The traditional solar cells use the sunlight to create electricity with the help of heavy batteries. The new system will function just like a plant, by using only the sun rays and the carbon dioxide that is available in the air.
The Artificial Leaf
The new design is supposed to solve two major problems in solar energy. The first one is removing the carbon from the atmosphere, and the second is production efficiency.
The carbon issue had been long debated in the scientific community. A report from NASA states that the Earth’s carbon dioxide is over 400 parts per million, which is a first-time historical record.
The artificial leaf can also be used in developing countries, as it will be offering a high efficiency with a better allocation of resources.
The engineers explain that the new solar cell is not photovoltaic, as the standard one is, but photosynthetic. The device will use the atmospheric carbon released into the atmosphere by the traditional fuels, and it will completely change the energy production.
Plants can produce their energy in the form of sugar. The artificial leaf will create a synthesis gas, which is a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas. When burned, the synthesis gas will turn into diesel and hydrocarbon fuels.
All about Chemistry
Scientists have long tried to find the proper catalysts that would allow them to reduce the carbon dioxide into burnable forms of carbon. The solutions so far were inefficient and relied on precious metals such as silver.
The team from the University of Illinois used nanoflake tungsten diselenide in the reaction, a catalyst a thousand times faster – and cheaper – than the other chemical substances tried before.
The artificial leaf will contain two photovoltaic cells, the catalyst system n the cathode side and an electrolyte in the anode side.
As the sun reaches the artificial leaf, the cathode will fill up with carbon monoxide gas and hydrogen and the anode will collect free oxygen and hydrogen ions.
The research team thinks that the new device will be able to replace fossil fuel altogether. They hope to make it useful for both big industries and small-scale projects, as well as on Mars. While the atmosphere on the Red Planet contains a high percentage of carbon dioxide, the plans may be realistic enough.
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